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            Even with a potty-trained two-year-old as my only companion, the round-trip local bus between Rennes and Mont-Saint-Michel was designed to be easy, which at first, it was.

            After an hour or so, the driver announced a stop:

            “La toilette. Retournez dans quinze minutes.”

            I’d learned the ropes during a year of European travels together: to avoid long lines, sit near the front of the bus and be one of the first to exit. I picked up Alicia, held her close to my chest, and hurried to the nearest bathroom, only to discover it was a newer version of a pissoir. Not my favorite option, but better than nothing.

             A private, cast-iron green urinal, it included two elevated spots for feet, on either side of a hole in the ground to pee (or whatever) in. We’d been through this before; I already knew the dark circle in the ground seemed infinite and scary to a toddler.

            “Here, Mommy will hold you.”

            I helped pull her pants down and she clung tightly to me, over the small opening in the floor. Finished, I placed her on solid ground, a foot or so away. She pulled up her pants and waited for my turn. Yanking up my blue jeans, I noticed something I’d not seen before: a long metal chain with a handle on the end, coming out of a tank high above.

            In a pissoir? Interesting.

            Pleased at the cleanliness of this new option, I yanked the chain and out rushed fresh water, down to the hole and the surrounding cement, bouncing back all over the front of Alicia’s purple pants and white top.

            “Oh my god,” I yelled, fantasizing all sorts of things that could now be on the front of her clothes.

            “I’m so sorry, Alicia. I’m so sorry.”

            She cried as I grabbed her, stretched out between my arms, as far in front of me as I could reach. It was one of the few times I’d brought no extra clothes. Cognizant of the limited minutes remaining, I ran across the street, hoping to buy something else for her to wear, apologizing all the way. Her sobs lessened, and suddenly, she stopped, looked right at me, tears still wet on her cheeks, and with an impish smile said:

            “Kind of funny.”

            We both started to laugh, even as I kept saying: “Mommy’s so sorry. I didn’t know that would happen.”

            There were only three retail stores: a boulangerie, a patisserie and a mariner’s shop, my only option. Running through the doorway I spied a toddler’s sailor suit. Probably meant for a boy, it was a two-piece outfit: short cotton, navy trousers with a matching top, and a white sailboat on the front. Already a little small for her, and more expensive than I’d usually pay, I grabbed it. Luckily there were no others waiting in line. I paid, darted quickly back across the street, tore off her clothes, threw them into the nearest garbage can, and pushed her tiny limbs into the suit, as people lined up to reboard the bus.

            It was one of those moments to be thankful for a credit card and a good job to pay it off: $45, too small to ever wear again, but at least she was clean and dry.

Photo by Sarah Charlesworth - Published Under Creative Commons License CC BY-SA2.0

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